According to the Pew Research Center, about 5 percent of young adults in the United States report that their gender is different from their birth-assigned gender. For adults of all ages, it’s 1.6 percent. About a quarter of adults say they have a trans friend (27 percent), 13 percent say they have a trans colleague, and 10 percent say they have a trans family member. As a follow-up to our first 2019 People of Pride report and part of our 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Business and Politics Report, we spoke to three transgender leaders from North Texas with whom they shared their personal journeys have shared D Managing Director.
Advisor, Crush Limits
A Jackson State University graduate who earned an MBA from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Naomi Green relocated to Dallas in 2018 and assumed a general manager role at Smoothie King. Shortly thereafter, Green went to an emergency room in Garland after experiencing pain in her leg.
While keeping his distance from her and unwilling to perform a close examination, the doctor told Green that she would be fine and sent her home with no medical expenses or a care plan. When the pain continued a few days later, Green’s mother insisted that she get a second opinion. Green went to a local emergency room and immediately saw a difference in the care. The new doctor put her on IVs and ordered an ultrasound to determine that she had a serious infection in her leg. He told her it was only a matter of days before the infection could become septic and she could have possibly lost her leg. “I immediately realized that the original ER doctor didn’t want to touch me or treat me because I was transgender,” says Green.
It took months, multiple rounds of antibiotics, and emergency surgery to fully heal. “A lot of things were going wrong at that time and I started to wonder if I made the right decision to move to Dallas,” says Green. Then a friend introduced her to Abounding Prosperity, an organization whose mission is to address social and health inequalities for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPoC) and LGBTQ people. Green took part in a panel discussion entitled “Inviting Transparency” and found her calling. “It was a lot of soul searching, but that was my aha moment,” says Green. “Hearing this panel spoke to my heart and I knew I needed to get involved in the transgender community.”
Green accepted a position as a program manager at Abounding Prosperity. It was 2019 and a few months before the murder of 22-year-old transgender woman Muhlaysia Booker. “I was called to action,” says Green. “It was also the first time I stood up loud and proud as an out-transgender woman.”
Green left the nonprofit in 2022 to help develop B2C marketing strategies for LGBTQ women-led consulting firm Crush Limits. In her new role, she provides inclusion-focused advice to both large and small companies in the areas of human resources, employee training, recruitment, operations and compliance. “I’m such a social person and I love building relationships,” she says. “What I love about my new job is the opportunity to connect with business leaders. And at the core of what I do, I’m still helping people.”
South Central Regional Director, Lambda Legal
Born and raised in rural North Florida, Avery Belyeu has pursued a career in advocacy for communities and nonprofit organizations. Her first professional position after completing her undergraduate studies at Appalachian State University was during graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the student affairs department.
Although the school has a large LGBTQ student population, there were no resources available to the students. For example, Belyeu helped create a safe zone training program to educate college professionals on the needs of LGBTQ students.
Belyeu moved to New York in 2011 and accepted the position of Education Director for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. After spending more than three years with the nonprofit, Belyeu brought her experience to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Boston.
“The goal of my career has always been to make the world a fairer and more equal place – especially a place where all people and communities can thrive,” she says.
Belyeu relocated to Dallas seven years ago and was appointed Regional Director of Lambda Legal in 2018. It is a civil rights organization that was founded 49 years ago and is committed to realizing the full rights of LGBTQ people and people living with HIV/AIDS. through litigation, education and public policy work. “If you think about it, we are creating and effecting large-scale, systemic change,” says Belyeu. “Lambda Legal doesn’t just improve the lives of individuals – we don’t just impact small communities – we improve our whole country.”
A first-generation college student whose mother cleaned houses for a living and whose father worked in a grocery store, Belyeu grew up in a very religious household. Her parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Belyeu was cast out of faith in her 20s when she came out as a gay man and hasn’t seen her parents in 13 years. She knew she was transgender by the age of 25 and decided to switch five years later.
“I’ve always seen myself as a feminist,” she says. “But honestly, the biggest thing that caught me off guard in the transition process was sexism. I didn’t understand how ubiquitous it is in our culture until I experienced it myself.”
By visiting the Emanu-El Temple in Dallas, Belyeu says she has found healing in religious spaces. And as one of the few trans women in a leadership position at a national LGBTQ organization, Belyeu sees herself not as a role model, but as a model of opportunity. “I think the table is big enough for all of us,” she says. “I am uncompromisingly convinced that everyone should sit at the table.”
Global Sales Account Manager, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Jessie Kiannejad, born and raised in Plano to a first-generation immigrant parent who moved to the United States after the Iranian Revolution, came out as queer in his teens. “My real name isn’t Jessie, but I’ve always identified myself as Jessie,” he says.
“For as long as I can remember I have always been attracted to women, and only recently through therapy has I been able to identify the body dysmorphia I experienced growing up.”
After graduating from the University of North Texas in 2016, Kiannejad began his career in aviation and logistics. However, he didn’t feel comfortable with one of his first employers after graduation, and so he involuntarily came out of the closet in the office. “I hid that part of me for a long time,” he says. “I didn’t talk about my private life, and I certainly didn’t mix private and professional.”
It wasn’t until 2019 – and a change of industry – that Kiannejad felt comfortable showing the real me at work. That was also around the time he met his wife-to-be at a Dallas Pride event.
During the pandemic and working from home, and with the full support of his partner, Kiannejad began exploring the transition process. He decided to have surgery and started hormones to aid in his transition from woman to man. “There is no right or wrong way to transition,” he says. “You can choose to have hormones or you can choose not to have hormones. You can decide for or against an operation. For me, hormones and seeking gender-affirming medical care have given me more confidence. I can now identify better with my body and feel more like myself.”
Kiannejad also became very active in Hewlett Packard Enterprises’ Pride resource group, volunteering as the group’s vice president and helping to design resources for fellow LGBTQ employees. He officially came out as transgender at work in an internal email to colleagues on the International Transgender Day of Visibility. “It was the best thing ever,” says Kiannejad. “Now I can show myself as the real and authentic me at work and don’t feel like I have to hide from colleagues. It’s incredibly liberating.”
According to Kiannejad, HPE’s LGBTQ Allied Group outnumbers LGBTQ employees. “Allies are so important in the workplace because they have an impact that often carries more weight,” he says. “Just knowing that I have an incredible support group that I work in every day is helpful, and I think connectedness should be welcomed and celebrated in any workplace.”
Brandon J Call
Brandon J. Call is the Editor-in-Chief of D Managing Director Magazine. An award-winning business and data journalist, Call was previously…